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Li Na's coach Carlos Rodriguez spoke with China Daily in an interview after the final of WTA Championships on Sunday night and talked about how she has improved in her most consistent season.
How do you assess Li Na's performance overall throughout the year?
Very good. I'm happy that she did a great job and had a lot of improvements, which, for me as a coach, is very encouraging for the next season.
Li met the goal of making the top 3 at the year-end finale. Did you truly believe she can accomplish that when you set the goal for her in the beginning of the year?
Yes, if you can't believe, you can't make it. That is what I meant.
So next time, will you set the bar higher for her? Clinching No 2 or even No 1?
We have to try to move further. We can't be happy to be sitting there (at No 3). I don't know if she is going to do it, but at least we will try very hard next season.
Last year, you gave Li Na a tough time during winter training. How is it going to be this year?
Much tougher than last year.
Do you think that maybe it is better not to wear her out because she is 31?
No. I always say to her, as long as it is what you want, then it suits me. Her private life is her private life. But she is very professional. It is not a problem for me on that.
It is a little more than a year since you joined Li Na's team. What do you think her biggest improvement is?
I think today she can control herself much better. And also in terms of physically and technically, she is a much better player. I hope she can continue the progression next year.
And what did you do to help take her game to another level?
It is very long to explain. But like I said, it is a lot of hard work, it is the consistent work every single day. Have clear goals. And the way she does makes sense for her - that she trusts herself to understand that if she works harder she is going to collect a lot of success like she is doing this year.
Does Li Na still have any flaws in her game that she needs to overcome?
Nope. I'd say she has a lot of things to improve. That is why she is very encouraging for the next year.
Do you think today's loss is still a mental thing for Li, especially in the third set?
Hmm…She was very close. It was partly the mental thing, the emotional thing. But I have to say I am proud of what she did today. Second, she showed me now. And it is good for me that she can do what I ask her to do. That is important because now she has done it, she will continue to push herself to do more.
Li Na said yesterday that she used to hide her emotions from you because she feared that you could scoop up all her secrets. But now she was able to open up her mind a little bit to you and share some feelings with you. What's your take on that?
It is important for her to try to share emotions with Dennis, her husband, with Alex (Stober, Li Na's fitness coach) and with me. And my job is try to explain to her that if she is not going to show her emotions it will be very difficult for her in the future to become a better player and a better person.
You once told Li Na that a player only plays his best game in 7 to 8 weeks of every year. So what did you teach her to stay competitive when she was not at her best game?
This is what I say, that for me Li Na did not have coaching before. She only had training by a very good tennis trainer. But she never received coaching. I try to help develop her as a woman to get the tennis... the woman is going to….bring her tennis and other dimensions. That is my job. It is not only to teach her how to hit forehands and backhands. It is to help her to become a better person and a more, let's say, balanced person, to be a better player and a balanced player.
Li Na revealed that she thought about retiring from tennis during Wimbledon because she couldn't handle the pressure from both bad results and harsh media critics. Has she ever told you that? And what was your response?
Yes. I think if she wants to stop, she can do it, as long as it is for good reasons. And at Wimbledon it was not for good reasons. That's why she understood and continued (to play). And today you see that she was wrong.
So you just told her it was not a good reason to retire?
No. I said if you want to retire you can retire. Do it. No problem. As long as it is what you want.
So later on she just changed her mind?
Yes. Because I said if you stop playing tennis because you don't like to lose and you can't handle (the pressure), then it is a bad reason. You must have courage to accept your responsibility to be a champion. A champion loses and wins, and tennis is about that - losing and winning.
What do you do to help her when she feels nervous prior to a big match?
We would put some path, some things in play. But nothing special other than give her a tactical structure. And explain to her how to breathe, how to think and how to not go into the emotions.
You said yesterday that she must play freely and have more confidence in herself. How hard is that actually?
It is hard for her because it is not a question about (playing against) Serena or other players. It is about herself. She has to believe more in herself. Whatever is in front of her is not a problem. It is her first, and she has to believe because she is one of the best players today in the world, and she has to believe that.